Pilfered copper cheap but theft costs
Police arrested two men yesterday for investigation of the theft Saturday of 200 feet of copper wiring from 11 street lights on the H-2 freeway near the Ka Uka Boulevard overpass.
State officials estimate that the repair costs will be thousands of dollars, but because the value of the copper wiring amounts to only a little less than $100, the stiffest sentence the two men face is just 30 days in jail.
"It's pretty sad," said Maj. Debora Tandal, of the Pearl City police station. "The wiring is going to be costly to replace, and it's also hard for motorists, especially if someone is pulled over and there are no lights."
Repair costs have yet to be finalized but are estimated to be in the thousands, said Scott Ishikawa, state Department of Transportation spokesman. It is also uncertain how long the lights will be out, because the state is investigating how to make the lighting system theft-proof, he said.
Police said witnesses wrote down the license plate number of the van involved in the theft, and it was tracked to a Waimano Home Road residence in Pearl City.
Yesterday morning, the two men were arrested for investigation of fourth-degree theft, a petty misdemeanor. Police identified them as Robert Bryan, 42, and Daniel Seylor, 43. Bryan had 64 prior arrests and Seylor had 104 prior arrests.
But Tandal said it is "disappointing" that they face up to only 30 days in prison if convicted.
"It's because of the way they value the wiring," Tandal said. "Once it's removed, in that state, we're only able to charge them according to the value of the wiring at the time, not how much it costs in damage."
That is why prosecutors and the Honolulu Police Department are proposing a law to make the theft of copper a felony offense, carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.
The bill was introduced as part of the 2007 law enforcement legislative package. The bill would also require scrap dealers to ask for proof of purchase for any copper being sold to them.
"I'm hoping this is the start of something positive," Ishikawa said. "We'll gladly support any bill that would crack down on these kind of thefts. The thieves have gotten away with it for so long, they've been pretty brazen the last few months."
Since May, copper thieves have caused more than $300,000 in damage to freeway lighting in Central and West Oahu, ripping out wiring from about 100 fixtures.
Ishikawa said thieves have concentrated on two stretches:
» The H-2 freeway between Mililani and Waipio Gentry.
» The H-1 freeway westbound between the Kuna and Makakilo exits.
Transportation and police ask residents to be vigilant in reporting suspicious activity. Tandal said a telltale sign of copper theft is a car pulled over on the road.
"If someone is stopped on the road, call it in," Tandal said. "It might be someone who needs help anyway. The break in this case was the witness that reported it."